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NParks – The Greening Of Singapore

At NParks, Toh Wan Ting‘s key responsibility is to safeguard land for parks and park connectors.

What motivated you to apply for a scholarship with NParks?
Since young I’ve always loved nature and when I had to consider my ­career path, I went for the organisation that ­manages most of the green spaces in ­Singapore. NParks definitely made an ­impression. The scholarship allows me to help shape the living environment of ­Singapore by learning about urban planning. As it provided for overseas study, I felt that I would gain lots of new perspectives.

What sparked your interest in Urban Planning?
I didn’t grow up thinking that I want to be an urban planner. But I had always love places, both natural and built. Consequently, this also exposed me first-hand to the challenge of balancing both in our land- scarce nation. Natural spaces are beautiful and precious, but the built environment is as necessary and exciting and it takes both to create a liveable city. My interest in this field was thus stoked by the desire to learn how to craft this balance.

Tell us about your job. What is your job scope and what are some of your responsibilities?
As a Park Planning Manager, my key responsibility is to safeguard land for parks and park connectors. At a macro level, this involves reviewing land-use plans together with other agencies and ensuring that park space is adequately provided for. As there are often space constraints, it is common for us to negotiate with other agencies and develop solutions so that provision for parks is not compromised.

Internally, we work with other divisions in NParks to develop a diverse, well-distributed and connected network of parks and assist in its implementation. We study the development potential of spaces safeguarded for parks by conducting both desktop studies and site recces to assess their location, terrain, the catchment they would serve and whether there is synergy with nearby developments. If park development is to proceed, we help to ­secure planning approval for the project and facilitate allocation of the land required. Part of our work is also to formulate and review existing park provision policies and guidelines.

Tell us more about NParks’ role in managing Singapore’s green spaces and environment.
Creating our ‘City in a Garden’ is no simple task. This involves actively studying population trends and public feedback to ensure that sufficient park land is secured and that the appropriate types of park spaces are developed. There’s also the need to respond to the constantly changing environment – rapid development, climate change and the unpredictable weather conditions it brings etc. This pushes us to develop new technical solutions to ensure that flora and fauna can continue to thrive in spite of the constraints. Facilitating the interaction between people and nature is another important aspect of our work, and we work with the public to create green spaces together in the form of community gardens.
What opportunities have you enjoyed as an NParks scholar?

The scholarship allowed me to pursue an unusual field of study in an overseas ­environment and paved the way for me to enjoy even more enriching experiences.

Academically, I benefited from the ­variety of international students UCL attracts and it was very interesting to be able to analyse urban issues with inputs from people who came from such different ­backgrounds.

An invaluable part of my entire ­educational experience was the summer expeditions I participated in. I was in South Africa for a month and the Peruvian Amazon for two weeks as a research assistant. The projects at each location taught me different skills and techniques in field data collection and the environmental and ­ecological issues involved. The experience was important to me as it gave me a taste of the work involved in conservation – an area that is relevant to NParks but not covered in detail in my studies. Similarly, my internship in NParks a year earlier got me to understand the different planning functions better. Planning requires a good understanding of the concerns of the various stakeholders and I am glad I had the opportunity to step into the shoes of some of them.

Tell us about any notable projects you’ve worked on.

I had the chance to work on the Round-Island-Route project, a seamless green ­corridor that will span 150km around the periphery of Singapore. It will link up ­heritage areas in the city, coastal spots in the east and rustic greenery in the north and west, providing a new recreational experience for the public. With the ­extensive reach of the Round-Island-Route, I hope that many more people will be better connected with their relatives and friends and are able to use it to explore Singapore ­together.

How has NParks facilitated your personal and professional development?
My internship experience at NParks’ Park Planning Branch during my first summer break helped me understand ­planning in Singapore and NParks’ role in it. It provided me with insights into what I was ­studying and how it could be applicable in my future work. It also gave me the chance to interact with the NParks family and forge relationships with my future colleagues.

I continued to receive such opportunities to grow even after I began work. NParks organises a whole spectrum of seminars and courses and we are always encouraged to attend them if our schedule permits. There is generally no limit on what we are allowed to attend; for example, I could sign up for a tree inspection training or a park management course even though my work doesn’t directly involve operations work. NParks as a whole has an open and positive attitude towards learning and the commitment to helping us improve is evident.

What were some of the memorable events you have encountered in your scholarship journey with NParks?
I had the chance to intern at Gardens by the Bay while it was still under development. It was truly eye-opening to witness the scale of works that went on behind the scenes – from the construction of the mega structures to the immense variety and number of plants that were being prepared. I was highly impressed by the sheer details involved.

While I was studying overseas, I travelled to a variety of places. My first study trip took me to Istanbul to observe and analyse spaces within the city such as public squares and residential districts. I also joined a research expedition to South Africa which brought me to the savannah of the Thanda Reserve where I assisted in a vegetation survey to assess the level of habitat damage caused by elephant feeding pressure. The visits to such unique habitats are experiences I will never forget.

What do you look forward to in the future?

In the course of my studies, Singapore frequently surfaced as a positive example in our discussions on planning, and over the years, I’ve had friends and family ­comment on how much they enjoy the greenery and park facilities provided by NParks. I am proud of what Singapore and NParks have managed to achieve. However, we were often reminded that good planning revolves around ensuring the right development takes place in the right place and at the right time. The conditions we operate in today challenge us to constantly adapt and I look forward to contributing to NParks’ greenery planning and management efforts, which will ultimately enhance our standard of living.

Toh Wan Ting
NParks Overseas Undergraduate Scholarship
Age: 23
Now: Manager (Park Planning)
Attained: Bachelor of Science in Urban Planning, Design and Management, University College London